On Internet Saturation

There are few high-profile blogs I frequent, and even fewer I would recommend to a wide audience; but The Gospel Coalition is just such an exceptionally worthwhile site.  Virtually everything I’ve come across there has been valuable and preeminently biblical–which is saying a lot, given the quantity and variety of content they regularly put out.

Of particular note on TGC is the blog of pastor Kevin DeYoung.  In the course of my own blogging, I’ve already linked to DeYoung on two occasions: once in discussion of pastor Rob Bell’s woefully unbiblical Love Wins, and again in response to the tidal-wave popularity of Jefferson Bethke’s video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.”  A couple weeks ago, DeYoung published a brief and insightful pair of posts called “Don’t Let the Screen Strangle Your Soul.”  In them, DeYoung describes his realization of just how techno-centric and internet-saturated his daily life has become in recent years and discusses some of the more treacherous liabilities of such a mode of living.  Without condescension, he succinctly describes the fascinating and troubling effects of constant internet exposure on an ever-increasing segment of our culture, a segment which admittedly includes both him and me.

As I read DeYoung’s posts for the first time, my heart resonated so deeply with the problems he describes that I was appropriately frightened.  I saw how my habit of staying constantly connected to facebook, email, and my cell phone was not so much a well-intended effort to “make myself available to others” as it was a desperate desire to maintain a constant buzz of interaction, no matter how (typically) trivial.  I have learned all too well how easy it is to seek insulation from true and vital solitude through the endless parade of hollow amusements that the internet offers; and I have grown pitifully accustomed to the siren call of cyberspace haunting the back of my mind whenever I try to focus exclusively on a book or assignment.

Thus, in this matter I find myself needing not only repentance but reprogramming–a difficult process which nevertheless promises true life and peace.  As the Lord says,

“Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:7-9).

“[The Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11).

I have joined DeYoung in the confessional; let me now join him in striving for maturity and renewed obedience in Christ.  We will reap, if we do not give up.  What about you?

On the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

On January 22, 1973, the decision of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand in our country.  Since then, over 50 million American sons and daughters have been put to death under the sanction of our laws.  50,000,000.  That number roughly equals the combined populations of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

map

Put another way, that number is Lucas Oil Stadium filled to capacity 786 times.

But of course, numbers are only part of the picture.

Often, there is great tragedy in the lives of those who receive (and perform) abortions, such that I myself could not pretend to have experienced.  Behind every aborted child are a man, a woman, and a doctor–real people who walk among us every day, with whom we share our jobs, our campuses, our pews, our homes, and our hearts.  Ultimately, there is no demarcation between “we” and “they” when it comes to abortion.  There are people in your life and in mine who have received abortions; others have been complicit in encouraging or facilitating abortion; and many more have been personally affected by abortion.  Indeed, there is scarcely an American today whose life is not different because of the absence of these 50 million men and women.

What Word from the Lord befits such a day as today?  Two passages spring to mind.

Psalm 82. A Psalm of Asaph.

God has taken his place in the divine council;
     in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
     and show partiality to the wicked?     Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
     maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
     deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
     they walk about in darkness;
     all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods,
     sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
     and fall like any prince.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
     for you shall inherit all the nations!

The Lord God is King and Judge of the universe.  There is indeed a day appointed when every man shall stand judgment before God and receive from Him in accordance with his deeds.  With perfect justice, the Lord will set all things right in the end; and even now He is present and active in judging the lawless and upholding the cause of His people.  With the psalmist, we pray fervently that the Lord’s justice would be enacted in this world, just as we actively seek to employ what power we have to “rescue the weak and the needy… from the hands of the wicked.”  This the Lord commands; this we must do.

1 John 1:5b-6, 8-9

God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth….  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

There is no man or woman on earth who has not broken the perfect law of God and rebelled against His authority over their lives.  The whole world–every one of us together–has forsaken the Lord and invited His just wrath and condemnation upon us.  But the same Lord, a gracious and compassionate God, has provided salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus for all who repent of their sins and place their trust in Him.  Make no mistake: There is nobody good enough to be beyond the need of salvation by Christ, and there is nobody sinful enough to be beyond the saving power of Christ.  The facilitation, encouragement, and commission of abortion are terrible sins, condemned by God for their scorning of His image; but Jesus has paid the full penalty deserved by all who turn to Him, and He confers upon them a status of perfect righteousness in the eyes of God.  The guilt of abortion is washed away in the inestimable pardon and forgiveness the Christian receives from God by faith.  This the Lord promises; this He will surely do.  Just ask Jane Roe.

The grace of Christ to you.

Awful Idea Alert: UK Churches Rewrite 10 Commandments

As reported by The [UK] Telegraph, a recent revision of the 10 Commandments called just10 is getting rave reviews from hundreds of churches across the UK that have begun using the teaching program with their congregations.  As I read about the just10 series, visited their website, and considered what I saw, I was brought to a surprising but important question:  Just what is the purpose of the 10 Commandments?

“I like to use them for neck and shoulder stretches before I exercise!”

“Jordan, that may be the dumbest question I’ve ever heard.  Everybody knows what the 10 Commandments are for:  telling people what to do / not to do.”  Granted.  There is, however, much more to the matter than just that.  Rest assured, we aren’t merely splitting hairs today–quite the contrary, in fact.  This is important stuff.  Using the New Testament as our standard and church tradition as our model, we are led to conclude that just10 is a woefully inadequate reconstruction of the 10 Commandments due to its failure to point people to Christ.  This I will now attempt to demonstrate.

Naturally, our first step will be to familiarize ourselves with the material in question–in this case, the recast commandments of just10 and the commentary offered by its own creators and supporters.  So let’s begin our discussion by comparing the original 10 Commandments (ESV translation) with their just10 counterparts:

1)   You shall have no other gods before me.
1)   Live by priorities.

2)   You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
2)   Know God.

3)   You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
3)   Take God seriously.

4)   Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
4)   Catch your breath.

5)   Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
5)   Keep the peace with your parents.

6)   You shall not murder.
6)   Manage your anger.

7)   You shall not commit adultery.
7)   Affair-proof your relationships.

8)   You shall not steal.
8)   Prosper with a clear conscience.

9)   You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
9)   Hold to the truth.

10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
10) Find contentment.

As you can see, just10 attempts to extract and summarize the broader principles which underlie the specific injunctions of the 10 Commandments, and it does so with modest success.  Though the pithy principles often fail to strike the bull’s-eye of original meaning (e.g. numbers 2, 4, 5, and 8, to name a few), you’d be hard-pressed to argue that any of them are unbiblical or unrelated to their respective predecessors.  [Plus, the DVD comes with a “talk” on each commandment by J.John, the creator of just10, so we can assume that a fair amount of extrapolation comes in each those to make up for the relatively brief and imprecise titles.]  Most significantly, the ‘harshness’ of the 10 Commandments is completely done away with in just10; you will find nary a no or a not in the entire lot!  This, in fact, appears to be the primary thrust behind just10–a desire to present the 10 Commandments in a positive, non-abrasive light so that folks inside and outside the church will be better able to understand them and more inclined to embrace them in their lives.  Looking at The Telegraph’s article linked above, the purpose and function of just10 are on clear display:

“…rewritten to reflect modern values…”

“…modified to use up-to-date language and principles…”

“…praised by religious leaders for bringing practical advice to modern congregations…”

“…aimed at providing guidance…”

“Hey look guys, I found contentment!  I’m aiming at it to provide you guidance!”

“…J.John claims his commandments enable ‘everyone to understand God’s timeless principles on how we should live….  Along with a lot of people I think about the way that we live nowadays and what leads people to do the sort of things that happened in the riots–whether or not we have forgotten something about a good way of living….'”

“‘…It’s basically a way of presenting the Ten Commandments to help people connect with them in a positive way.  Rather than just seeing them as a list of things you shouldn’t do, it is meant to help people live as God intended for our good….  [T]he message is meant to be both a challenge and an encouragement….'” (Rev. Paul Roberts, quoted)

“‘…People now see these commandments not as a set of rules but as a template for living so that we experience God’s best for our lives….'” (pastor Wayne Dulson, quoted)

We can add to these quotes one of the main explanatory blurbs from the just10 website:

“Most people have heard of the Ten Commandments, God’s basic instructions for our lives that, when followed, help us live in freedom every day.  These core principles are designed to equip and guide us through life, keeping us on the right path, and helping us navigate through the tough times.

just10 breaks down the 10 Commandments into ten attractive titles….  J.John has found these titles attractive to both Christians and those seeking, with many realigning their lives to God’s blueprint.”

Again, I think we do well to affirm what is correct here before diving into what is amiss.  In the first place, people need to understand that the 10 Commandments (like all Scripture) are as relevant and applicable to our present moment in history as they have been since their original inscription–and relevant not just to murderers and adulterers but indeed to everyone.  Furthermore, since the 10 Commandments are the foundation for the entire moral law of the Old Testament, spoken aloud to the whole people of Israel and then written onto tablets by the very finger of God, they are indeed worthy of our special attention.  (To give you an idea, some scholars have ably argued that the entire book of Deuteronomy is a sequential exposition of the 10 Commandments.)  Additionally, the 10 Commandments are undoubtedly crucial to “[living] as God intended for our good” and to “[experiencing] God’s best for our lives.”  As the loving Creator of mankind, God gave us laws that reflect what He knows to be objectively good for us, such that any attempt to live contrary to His prescriptions will inevitably backfire and essentially become a punishment of its own.

But let’s assume for a moment that the original 10 Commandments as found in Scripture–and the other passages that directly relate to them (think Sermon on the Mount)–are somehow lacking in their ability to convey these points clearly or compellingly.  [For the record, they are not.]  Still, one problem remains.  just10 completely misses what is arguably the most important purpose of the 10 Commandments:  to expose man’s iniquity, convict him of sin, and point him to Christ Jesus as his only hope for escaping the just judgment of God.  Theologians have long understood this to be one of the three basic ‘uses’ of God’s moral law in the Bible.  (The other two are the general restraint of evil by civil authorities and the prescription of righteousness for God’s regenerated people.  just10 is basically operating on a conflated version of these two.)  Calvin speaks of this use of the law at length in his Institutes:

“By exhibiting the righteousness of God,—in other words, the righteousness which alone is acceptable to God,—[the moral law] admonishes every one of his own unrighteousness, certiorates, convicts, and finally condemns him.  This is necessary, in order that man, who is blind and intoxicated with self-love, may be brought at once to know and to confess his weakness and impurity.  For until his vanity is made perfectly manifest, he is puffed up with infatuated confidence in his own powers, and never can be brought to feel their feebleness so long as he measures them by a standard of his own choice.  So soon, however, as he begins to compare them with the requirements of the Law, he has something to tame his presumption….  [A]fter he is forced to weigh his conduct in the balance of the Law, renouncing all dependence on this fancied righteousness, he sees that he is at an infinite distance from holiness, and, on the other hand, that he teems with innumerable vices of which he formerly seemed free.

“Thus the Law is a kind of mirror.  As in a mirror we discover any stains upon our face, so in the Law we behold, first, our impotence; then, in consequence of it, our iniquity; and, finally, the curse, as the consequence of both.  He who has no power of following righteousness is necessarily plunged in the mire of iniquity, and this iniquity is immediately followed by the curse….  All that remains for the Law, is to arm the wrath of God for the destruction of the sinner; for by itself it can do nothing but accuse, condemn, and destroy him.  Thus Augustine says, ‘If the Spirit of grace be absent, the law is present only to convict and slay us.'”  (source)

“Read this. Now look me in the eyes and tell me you’re righteous.”

Let’s take another look at the just10 versions of the commandments above.  Would you really call those commandments?  They’re so vague and mild… how do I even know when I’ve broken one?  Here’s something you’ll never hear:  “I don’t think I’ve ‘caught my breath’ recently; I need Jesus’ blood to atone for my sin and turn away God’s wrath!”  What God gave as laws for His people from the supreme Lord and Judge of the universe, just10 has softened into “guidelines” and “practical advice” from God the gentle grandfather who doesn’t want to see you hurt yourself.  Realizing that the 10 Commandments in their original form pierce like bullets, just10 has turned them into Nerf darts.  Compared to bullets, Nerf darts are comfortable; Nerf darts are unimposing; Nerf darts are safe.  But God did not intend for the moral law to be seen as “attractive” or an “encouragement,”* and the absence of the concepts of sin and grace from any just10 materials I’ve seen is downright scary.  (Believe me, I’ve looked.  Then again, maybe they’re saving the ‘condemnation sucker punch’ for the DVD.  At this point, I honestly hope so.)

Galatians 3 is a key passage for our understanding of the illuminating and convicting use of the law, which theologians commonly call the ‘pedagogical’ use.  After giving the people of Israel the law, God promised them abundant blessings for obedience to the law and severe curses for disobedience to the law; with this context in mind, Paul says that Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us… so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (vv13-14).  Later in v19 we read, “Why then the law?  It was added because of [i.e. in order to show] transgressions.”  Finally, Paul brings his point to a head in vv22-24:

“[T]he Scripture [i.e. the Old Testament] imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  So then, the law was our guardian [or ‘schoolmaster’ or ‘tutor’–Greek pedagogos] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”

The 10 Commandments point us to Christ!  Not just indirectly or coincidentally, either–it was built into them from the very start as their primary purpose.  As people who are utterly incapable of obeying God’s law and meeting His divine requirements for us, we have no choice but to look to someone who (A) can perfectly obey God’s law on our behalf and (B) can take the punishment for our disobedience on our behalf.  THAT’S MY SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST!!!

Paul sums it all up in Romans 3:21-22:  “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

“Go ahead, you can say it–my foreshadowing skills are AMAZING!”

So where does that leave just10?  In the best case scenario, just10 is simply unnecessary, because the ‘vintage’ 10 Commandments are more than capable of doing their job, especially when attended by the rest of Scripture.  (There’s a big difference between expounding a text and revising it, guys!)  Unfortunately, we must go further and say that just10 is also harmful in its incompleteness.  For people to think they’re getting the full scoop on the 10 Commandments from J.John and company is a grievous error.  Sadly, we must go even further and say that just10 runs directly counter to the true 10 Commandments in its suppression of their intrinsically demanding nature as unyielding requirements for man to be able to fellowship with God and avoid His just judgment.  The 10 Commandments are glass, not rubber; when you break them (and break them you do), they cut you.  And thank God that they do, because how else would you know you needed a Doctor otherwise?

To this end, the 10 Commandments are an invaluable resource for evangelism.  As one of my professors has repeatedly said, “The first step in any gospel presentation is to get the person ‘lost.'”  Christ’s offer of salvation falls on deaf ears if the person doesn’t realize he needs saving.  Jesus Himself took this exact approach–using the 10 Commandments, no less–when he met the rich young man.  In his excellent book on evangelism Tell the Truth, author Will Metzger presents a paraphrase of the 10 Commandments that spells out the true heights of their astronomical standards, thus driving home our utter inability to declare any of the following:

1)   I have never put anything else before God in my life.  I have always given God first place in my thinking, affections, and actions.

2)   I have never had any wrong conceptions of God nor worshipped Him in a way not recommended by Him.  I have always rejected any wrong imaginations or images of God that I’ve seen or thought and refused to remake God according to my liking.

3)   I have never slighted or abused the character of the true God by using His holy name as a swear word or using it in a thoughtless manner, such as by calling myself a follower of God yet not obeying.  I have always held the name of God, which signifies His character, in highest respect, invoking it with thoughtfulness and reverence.

4)   I have never done less than a full week’s work, and never done any of my normal work on the day set aside to worship God.  I have always worked hard and willingly at whatever task is set before me, seeing it as a God-given service each day, and consistently remembered to set apart one day weekly to worship God with others.

5)   I have never disobeyed nor dishonored my parents or any others in authority over me.  I have always respected and been thankful for my parents and given them honor and willing obedience, as well as other authorities over me.

6)   I have never murdered anyone nor had hateful thoughts or taken the slightest pleasure in seeing harm done to another human.  I have always thought more of others than I have of myself and practiced the highest regard for human life and justice.

7)   I have never practiced any sexual impurity, either physically engaging in sex before marriage or mentally having impure thoughts about someone.  I have always treated others’ sexuality with respect and dignity in both my physical actions and mental attitudes.

8)   I have never taken anything that doesn’t belong to me nor been deceitful in any attitudes or unwilling to work for my needs.  I have always respected the belongings, rights and creations of others and been completely truthful and fair.

9)   I have never lied nor slandered another person or group of people.  I have always told the truth in every situation regarding every person I have known.

10) I have never been greedy for something that wasn’t mine, nor jealous even of the abilities, looks, or status of others.  I have always shared and given of my possessions and myself to others and have been thankful in my heart for what they have and content with my possessions and situation.

That’ll get ’em lost!  And if you aren’t convicted afresh after reading those, then you, my friend, are nuts.  Praise God for His incredible over-the-top superabundant grace through Christ our Lord!  Amen.

“You can thank me later.”**

—————————————

*To qualify this slightly, passages like Psalm 119 show that it is possible to rejoice in God’s law, in which case it can indeed be seen as “attractive” or an “encouragement.”  But the broader biblical witness makes it clear that such delight in God’s law is only possible for someone who has already been justified before God by grace apart from observing the law (i.e. through faith).  The joy of the law is only available to those who have been freed from the curse of the law.  Thus the pain of contrition and repentance must always come first.
**All images in this post are the original property of Paramount Pictures and Motion Picture Associates, Inc.

Why I Love Religion (And So Does Jesus)

I spy with my little eyes… an interesting video for you to watch!  (Twelve million people have in the past week alone, so you’ll be in good company.)

A while back, we spent a lot of time talking about how younger Christians are now tending toward alternative titles or expressions to identify their spirituality besides Christian.  I use the term spirituality very intentionally, because it appears that many younger Christians have also come to eschew the term religion itself.  Whereas a religion used to be simply a group of people organized around shared beliefs and practices, our poetic friend Jefferson Bethke’s video verbalizes an increasingly prevalent anti-religion bias among the rising generation of Christians, characterizing it as a cold, dead, empty formalism that Jesus hates.

There is so much to be said about this issue that I hardly know where to begin.  So, instead of launching another full-scale investigation and critique like I did with the Christian issue, I happily point you to the blog of pastor Kevin DeYoung.  This is not the first time I’ve commended DeYoung’s work to you (as his review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins is a veritable paragon of winsome AND biblical Christian argumentation), and I am pleased to report that his response to Bethke’s video is equally articulate, edifying, loving, and scriptural.  DeYoung grapples with the issues raised in the video with a grace and care that I almost certainly would have lacked in any attempt of my own.

Of course, another indication that DeYoung has penned the definitive response to the video is that Bethke himself emailed DeYoung about it, which precipitated a series of replies and even a phone conversation between the two.  Fans and critics alike are definitely going to want to read what Bethke had to say in response to DeYoung.

And so I leave you in very capable hands.  Read on!
“This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules.  You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.  You have declared today that the LORD is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice.  And the LORD has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, and that he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised.” –Deuteronomy 26:16-19

Tim Tebow vs. Joe Christian

It is not often that a football player’s social influence is felt outside the bounds of the sporting world, but this holiday season, the popularity and notoriety of young Saint Tim have virtually eclipsed those of old Saint Nick.

from timtebow.com

The fledgling Denver quarterback may have led the struggling Broncos on a six-game winning streak in recent weeks, but that’s not the real story.


[This video is so very worth ten minutes of your time.]

See, Tim Tebow is a Christian.  But not just in the way that most other Christian NFL players are Christians.  Tim Tebow is actively and openly glorifying God through the platform of professional football.  In other words, he’s a Christian who happens to be an NFL player–not the other way around.  As a result, he is unabashedly outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ and his commitment to making Him the number one priority in his life.

And not many folks are okay with that.

In recent weeks, Tebow has been pelted, pummeled, and pounded with criticism for his insistence on praising God as the Source of every success and for his refusal to treat his faith as anything less than it is: the single most important and influential factor in his life.  Folks in every imaginable media outlet have ridiculed him for his “pretentious” piety and his “quaint” beliefs, and they have taken offense at his displays of religiosity in the “public sphere.”  Religion is strictly a private matter, so they claim, and thus it has no right to rear its holier-than-thou head on the football field or on television.  Even many Christians–including several current and former NFL players who are self-identified believers–have come out in opposition to the zealot’s rabid fanaticism for Jesus Christ.

The most recent crack at Tebow came from Saturday Night Live, in a scene in the Broncos locker room where even Jesus Himself pokes fun at Tebow for being a religious nutcase.  There is certainly no entertainment to be had in the sketch, but for the purpose of illustrating the world’s reaction to Tebow–which the clip does most excellently–you can watch it here.

Of course, there is also a large subset of Christians who praise Tebow’s courage and commitment to the cross of Christ, admiring his testimony and wishing he could meet their daughters.

Stud Muffin

And who can blame them? He takes after his Father, after all. (*ba-dum PSHH!*)

I myself am also quite glad for the strong witness of my Christian brother.  I want to emphasize this, because what I’m about to say about Tebow could perhaps be misinterpreted as an assertion to the contrary.  So, to reiterate, I think Tim Tebow is an admirable man of God, and I think his approach to life as a Christian sports celebrity is spot-on.

I just think that Joe Christian could do it too.  Being Tim Tebow is easy, because it’s really hard.

By way of roundabout explanation, allow me to tell you about the two times in my life when I was the most obedient, the most humble, the most Christlike I’ve ever been.

The first was during my summer as a counselor at Pine Valley Bible Camp, a ministry dedicated to reaching the youth of inner-city Pittsburgh with the good news of Jesus Christ.  Spending 24 hours a day chasing, teaching, entertaining, and loving those profoundly broken children from a profoundly broken culture was the greatest physical and emotional challenge of my life.  But in the face of so great a challenge–the task of being completely selfless for days on end–I discovered the immeasurable depth of God’s equipping power.  By His grace, I was enabled to sacrifice myself wholeheartedly for the wellbeing of some truly devilish young people.  And I experienced the joy of following in the footsteps of Christ, of loving “not in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:18).

The second came the following summer when I took a temp job as a laborer in a local warehouse.  Due to the unwieldy size and shape of our product, all the laborers worked in pairs; and though there were some lovely folks working in that warehouse, my partner was not one of them.  We soon discovered that our work ethics were polar opposites: I wanted to work hard out of respect for the company and for God, and he wanted to do as little work as possible and forge the inventory paperwork so as not to get found out.  Well, eventually my honest paperwork naturally exposed his dishonest paperwork, he got yelled at by the bosses, and our relationship went sour.  Soon I was working ten hours a day with a man who hated my guts, constantly ridiculed me for doing the job rightly, and actively sought to make my days miserable and cause me to “break character” from my attitude of Christian servanthood and persistent cheerfulness.  It was then, when I saw through the darkness’ masquerade as light and realized its true nature–it was then that I shone brightest for God.  Every day was a new opportunity to put on Christ–to articulate His truth at every challenge and live out His love at every moment.

Right now, Tim Tebow’s life is like my summer in that warehouse.  Everywhere he goes, he can see the world watching and waiting for a chance to mock his God the moment he slips.  There is no ambiguity in his situation and no hiding out; he is constantly in the public eye, and people are judging Christ by watching his life.  Every day he is slapped in the face with this reality.

Tim Tebow knows what is on the line.  And so he rises to the occasion.

Do we?

“Jordan, my life isn’t like Tim Tebow’s life.  I hardly get any outright opposition to my Christianity.”  Nor is mine, Joe, and nor do I.  If you’re like me, you feel like your world is full of small, gray issues–not big, black-and-white ones like Tebow.  But that is not a good thing.  In fact, it’s an enormous problem.  The armor of God is not for diplomats, and it’s not for spectators. It’s for warriors.  I am here to tell you that regardless of your particular circumstances, your personality, or your focus, your life is war.  Your calling is to make war on the sin and injustice and evil in your life.

And in order to make war, you have to declare war.  (Have you? Really?  The battle lines will not be drawn up for you.  The enemy thrives on deception and obscurity.)

And in order to declare war, you first have to wake up to the fact that the enemy is real, that it is not small and gray, that everything really is on the line.  This is immensely difficult, because it radically alters both the foundation and the trajectory of our lives.  As long as we see our lives as full of small gray issues, the Christianity with which we tackle them will be only a small gray Christianity.  This kind of Christianity is easy and comfortable because it doesn’t expose the opposition, and thus we don’t have to struggle with our neighbors and our families and our own wretched flesh telling us to shut up and back down and just accept disobedience.

Tim Tebow didn’t step onto the national stage and demand that everyone take notice of his piety.  He simply committed to living a life of obedience to Christ, which created opportunities to talk about Christ (and a concurrent desire to talk about Christ), which brought opposition.  This is an unbreakable chain of consequence.  You cannot be a Christian without embracing the first link, and the others follow naturally from it.  So how is it that most of us don’t seem to have those opportunities to witness to Christ and don’t seem to engender much opposition because of Christ?  The only real reason can be that we aren’t really committed to obeying Christ.

If you are afraid of everything that obedience might bring–if you don’t feel equal to the task–cheer up; you aren’t.  But it doesn’t matter one bit.  The Holy Spirit Who strengthens and counsels Tim Tebow is the same Holy Spirit Who will strengthen and counsel you.

You know, Jesus wrote a blog post just like this one once, except he spoke it out loud and it only took him two sentences:

“In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Know Thyself

A little ways down this post is a “self-assessment statement” I was required to prepare last month for my Leadership class.  At the beginning of the semester, every student in the class was tasked with completing four personal inventories:

1.) The DiSC Personal Profile System (website here)
2.) Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 (website here)
3.) Myers-Briggs typology test (free to take online here)
4.) Gift Test (free to take online here)

Subsequently, we were asked to “analyze the various personality profiles and explain how your specific personality traits and gifts will affect your leadership in the following areas: (1) your personal life; (2) your ministry: leadership and interactions with others, church leaders, congregants, management, etc.; and (3) your marriage and family.”

Now, you may rightly ask:  Why would I put something so intimate and Jordan-centric on my blog dedicated to Christ and His Church?  Well, regarding the former, I don’t mind anybody knowing what makes me tick.  After all, I’ve always been a big advocate of transparency (hey look, you can read about that below!).  Regarding the latter, it turns out that my professor isn’t crazy and wasn’t wasting my time!  Understanding the contours of one’s design and development can be incredibly valuable for life in general and, more importantly, for one’s life and ministry in the Church.  The unity to which Christ Himself urges believers must necessarily involve communication and cooperation, both of which are strengthened by taking the time to understand and value each another’s unique internal makeup–as well as our own.

Thus, it is my hope that sharing some of my personal reflections might catalyze the whole lot of us toward a deeper appreciation of our brotherhood in Christ and an ever wiser approach toward accomplishing our Christian mission together.

Self-Assessment Statement

If we Reformed Christians profess God’s perfect sovereignty and His divine coordination of all reality and every event, then we must also trust that the Lord has provided each of us with the personality and gifts which He has planned for our benefit and His glory.  In the same way that the body is made of many parts, each with its own purposes and methods, so the church is composed of many personalities, each with its own functions and benefits.  It is a great blessing for one to examine his personality and discover his specific contributions to the church, being all the while thankful for the contrasting personalities of his brothers and sisters and careful not to presume superiority over them as if his outfit of traits were “the best.”

Such humility does not come easily to me as a “perfectionist”—the title awarded me by the DiSC profile test, and one with which I undeniably accord.  Perfectionism, with its obsessive focus on achieving right outcomes with precision, accuracy, certainty, and sustainability, can hardly endorse the validity of any other personality but perfectionism; it is naturally self-affirming and, furthermore, is far too quick to consider such matters as zero-sum scenarios.  So it is my perpetual struggle not to dismiss my fellow man simply on the basis that his personality is not the same personality which within me calls itself perfect.  Of course, perfectionism will be a harsh taskmaster for both its bearer and his associates if not tempered by frequent reality checks and heavy doses of grace.  Perhaps the extroverted socialite is less prone to perfectionism because he is in touch with more lives, or perhaps simply because he spends less time privately crafting his intellectual architecture; but as a “mastermind” (i.e. a Myers-Briggs INTJ), my external reticence habitually lures me into solitude, where I am free to drown in thought.

My relational life as an INTJ consists more in depth (a.k.a. “quality”) than in breadth (a.k.a. “quantity”).  All things being equal, I am just as content to whistle my way through the day and generally “mind my own business” as I am to exchange insubstantial pleasantries with those in whom I have not already developed a specific interest.  Generally speaking, perfectionism discourages change of almost any sort, at least until a serious flaw in one’s current trajectory is convincingly demonstrated, and this serves most often simply to reinforce the relational status quo of a situation.   Of course, my genuine social interests are often subject to diminution by my acute self-consciousness, which is itself derived from my self-perceived lack of social skills—skills which I fail to develop because of my timidity due to acute self-consciousness.  Here lies the great vicious circle of introversion.  However, those who penetrate the outer layer of apparent indifference and establish significant interaction receive a royal welcome into the introvert’s life and an abundant recurring offering of his time, energy, and affections.  Though the emotional dimension of my attachments to loved ones may not manifest externally with as much vividness or fanfare as others’, my passion and care for them burns ever brightly in my heart.  Overall, the mastermind is paradigmatic of the principle of relational inertia: disregarding external forces, a relationship at rest (i.e. uninitiated) will tend to stay at rest, and a relationship in motion (i.e. invested) will tend to stay in motion.

While certainly affirming and extending many of the descriptions outlined above, Clifton’s Strengths Finder also brought new and even unexpected facets of my personality to light.  Taken together, my Strength of Belief, Strength of Connectedness, Strength of Intellection, and Strength of Responsibility all nicely restate both the values and the burdens of the perfectionist mastermind: strong ideas and convictions which necessitate strictly correct living.  The big twist comes with my supposed Strength of Adaptability, which initially seems to indicate either an error in the test results or a personality split of schizophrenic proportions.  Though somewhat paradoxical, I can affirm my strength in adapting to almost any circumstance, system, or practice (so long as it does not infringe upon my bedrock beliefs and their direct outworking).  This personality streak of easygoing adaptation can likely be traced to the substantial influence of Rich Mullins’ music and writings on my life, and its cohabitation with perfectionism brings no small amount of internal tension.  Generally, I seek to hold in open hands everything which is not Truth, meaning that even my perfectionistic plans and goals must be placed at God’s disposal with which to do or to do away.

In fact, my Strength of Adaptability can be neatly tied to my spiritual gift as a “giver”; it follows from the open-hands mentality that my resources can and must be made available to others whenever they have need.  If this giving involves personal sacrifice, then I will adapt to my new situation and make it work.  My other two strong gifts are as “perceiver” and “teacher,” whereby I am afforded a keenness of insight and a desire to understand and proclaim the truth, respectively.  Equally important to note in the area of spiritual gifts are the categories in which I scored lowest—namely, mercy and encouragement.  Mercy is perhaps the most necessary counterforce to perfectionism in one’s life, and unfortunately, it is absurdly difficult for the perfectionist to generate within himself—both for himself and for others.  Weakness in the area of encouragement, I believe, can be traced back to the intellectual introvert’s more rational and propositional paradigm for interpreting and engaging reality, as opposed to the more emotional approach to counseling and affirmation which most recipients of encouragement desire.

Though the exact specifications of my call to ministry are yet to be revealed, I know that I will need to employ my God-given strengths and supplement my God-given weaknesses in whatever role He has ordained for me.  My social reticence does not make me one to demand authority over others; so long as my boss(es) lead(s) in such a manner and direction that do not compromise my core values, I have traditionally been quite happy to assume less authoritative (though not unimportant) roles within organizations.  However, my desire is to lead as a preaching pastor.  Within this context, my tendency would be toward straightforwardness from the pulpit and diplomacy in personal interactions with congregants and with the other church leaders.  My passion for ensuring quality outcomes—particularly in the areas of preaching and teaching—would certainly need to be balanced by constant appeals to God’s grace and providence, by which He makes any such successes possible and by which He retains and sustains us when we fall short.  My deep-seated desire that people’s ideas, words, and actions be always based on rationality would no doubt be a constant bother to me as one of the most unrealistic expectations possible for a church body.  It would also be difficult for me to keep my hands out of every last activity and to completely delegate their oversight to people I do not already supremely trust.  Working with a team of elders and leaders who understand and value my perspective but who have a variety of their own perspectives would be essential.

Regarding the implications of my personality type and spiritual gifts for my marriage and family, I foresee a number of potential blessings and potential struggles should the Lord one day bless me with such companionship and offspring.  The depth of affection and interaction I pursue with loved ones as well as my fierce loyalty to them will ideally reach their zenith in my spousal relationship.  My strength in consistency and in willingness to sacrifice myself will likely be accompanied by weakness in being too outcome-focused and struggling to minister directly to my wife’s emotions.  As far as children are concerned, my strengths and weaknesses will both likely revolve around my passion for educating and catechizing them.  I must be faithful to do so without diminishing the importance of non-didactic aspects of relationship and fatherhood.  I must learn to trust and delegate parental duties to my wife without needing to have my fingers in every pie.  Most importantly, I must learn to trust that the Lord’s sovereign plan will not fail in their lives even if its unfolding brings about outcomes that I do not intend for them.  Even with my keen sense of personal responsibility, the ultimate wellbeing of my family must be held in open hands.